Parents: Aspen schools are making the grade |

Parents: Aspen schools are making the grade

Jeanne McGovernThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Parents of students in Aspen’s public schools believe their kids are getting a good education in a great environment, but there is always room for improvement – namely in the foreign language curriculum.That was the upshot of a “school community satisfaction” survey conducted in the spring by the District Accountability Committee; the survey results were recently given to the Aspen School Board.”What we learned was that, overall, we are doing a good job. But there are places of concern, and that is where we need to focus some attention and dig a little deeper,” Superintendent John Maloy said in summarizing the survey results. The survey, which was administered online and given to parents during parent-teacher conferences, was intended to gauge the community’s opinion of the district’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as specific issues such as the school calendar. In all, 249 people completed the questionnaire, with 93 percent of respondents being parents.According to the survey, the vast majority of respondents – ranging from 90 percent at Aspen High School to 97 percent at Aspen Community School – felt “comfortable and welcomed at school.”All of the district’s schools received similarly high marks in a variety of areas, including outdoor education, social studies and other academic areas. Hand-written comments also commended the district on its teachers, administrators and overall “culture and climate.””I think this speaks volumes about our schools,” said school board member Laura Kornasiewicz. “To know that parents are pleased with the school culture shows that what we are trying to be for the kids is working.”But not everything is working perfectly, according to the survey. When asked if they were “satisfied with the foreign language curriculum,” essentially a quarter of parents at the public elementary, middle and high schools checked “disagree.””I think we have a job ahead of us in answering the question: ‘What does a student look like when they’ve completed world languages at the Aspen School District?'” said Aspen Middle School Principal Tom Heald.He spearheaded the survey effort with the district’s director of special education, Heather Abraham. According to Heald and Abraham, the problem may not be with the district’s foreign language curriculum per se. Rather, the problem may lie in parents’ perception of what their child is learning as they pass through the district’s world languages department.”We struggle with what the community wants in a world languages program, and there seems to be a disconnect in the community of parents as to how much time the kids receive instruction and what the end result is,” Maloy said.He cited the fact that elementary school students receive only one class in Spanish every six school days and cannot be expected to master the language by the time they graduate to fifth grade.”By and large, what our curriculum offers is exploration and awareness, particularly at the lower grades,” he said. “And for many parents, that might not be what they perceive or want.”Regardless, if a quarter of parents are not happy with a program, it needs to be analyzed, discussed and improved upon, the board and district officials agreed. As a result, the school principals were charged with talking to their staff and school accountability committees about the world languages program, which will then be discussed with the school board in November.Complete survey results can be found at; click on the Accountability & Accreditation link and look for “Parent and Community Survey.”

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